​How do you make a career as a pharmacist sound like an adventure—second only to scaling Mount Everest by the north route or navigating the full length of the Pan-American Highway from Anchorage to Tierra del Fuego?

That was the challenge Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Associate Dean Catherine Jarvis, PharmD, faced in the fall of 2012, as she developed a plan for recruiting new students to her school on the Anschutz Medical Campus. To find an answer, she didn’t commission studies, didn’t organize focus groups, didn’t hold a series of meetings.

Instead, she asked a couple of students what they thought.

Clarissa Manzi, a fourth-year PharmD student, who happened to be working in the school’s Office of Student Services, made a half-joking suggestion.

“Why don’t we do a video about pharmacy careers patterned after ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ and call it ‘The Pharmacist Hunter?’” Manzi asked.

A fan of the Discovery Channel television series, hosted by the late Australian wildlife expert, Steve Irwin, Manzi had been struck by the similarities between Irwin and one of her professors, David Thompson, PhD, a native of Australia.

“They both are passionate about their field, they both make you love to learn,” Manzi said.
“And, of course, there’s the accent.” Manzi took her idea to Dana Brandorff, director of communications and alumni affairs at the pharmacy school. Brandorff immediately saw the potential.

“There’s a lot more to pharmacy than counting pills,” Brandorff said. “I loved the creativity of channeling Steve Irwin, and I thought it would be a great way of grabbing attention and portraying the depth and breadth of the profession—showcasing what pharmacists really do.”

Both Manzi and Brandorff were half-surprised when the idea received a green light from the school’s administration, temporarily transforming the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences into “Skaggs Studios.”

Casting call …

After proposing the concept, Manzi moved on to her next clinical rotation, leaving Brandorff to nurture the idea into a production. For her first step, she needed to write a script, which, she discovered, wasn’t that difficult.

“I am a Steve Irwin wannabe,” Brandorff said. “His show made watching animals in the wild interesting. We wanted to do the same for pharmacy. We also wanted to give the viewer an idea of the paths one can take professionally with a pharmacy degree.”

Before she started writing, Brandorff refreshed her memory of Irwin’s style by watching old episodes of his show, spellchecking “crikey” and “cor blimey” and channeling her inner Irwin. When she had finished the script, she held her breath and shopped it around the school for approval. Manzi, pharmacy faculty and CU Anschutz Educational Support Services (ESS) gave the script a once-over and made suggestions for improvement.

“ESS was critical in its review, because their staff has an eye for pairing the video with the script and making it sound authentic,” Brandorff said. “We did have some people who were concerned that it wouldn’t present the school in a professional way. I told them ‘The proof will be in the production.’”

Next, scriptwriter Brandorff had to morph into casting agent, director, props master, location manager, producer and executive producer.

Initially, she had hoped to cast Manzi’s inspiration, Dr. Thompson, as the pharmacist hunter, but like many stars-in-demand, he had scheduling conflicts, so ESS organized a casting call for a professional actor to play the role. Manzi, Brandorff and David Jensen, a freelance writer/producer, sat through a half day of auditions with Colorado actors offering up their version of an Australian accent.

“One was a cross between an Irish brogue and a southern accent, which clearly wouldn’t do,” Brandorff remembered.

In the end, Zach Andrews, a thespian from Boulder, with no Australian roots, was the unanimous choice.

On the set …

Brandorff recruited her video crew through Bryan Less, manager, Media Production at CU Anschutz. “This was definitely not the typical educational video,” Less said. “It was an opportunity to do something very creative and think outside the box.”

Less assigned cinematographer and editor Matt Silton to film the project in high definition. Faced with a production dominated by one person talking non-stop, Silton had to get creative about making transitions between scenes. (Watch for the potted plant.) With Jensen and Brandorff directing, they shot the entire project in one day, using half a dozen locations around the CU Anschutz campus and multiple cameo appearances from Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty and students.

“We weren’t sure this idea would work,” Silton said. “It really helped that Zach was a one-take wonder.”

The next step—editing—stretched from days to weeks. Even Brandorff began to wonder if the video would ever get finished.

“After doing this project, I have renewed respect for people in the film industry,” she said. “It’s amazing how one 9-hour day of filming gets distilled into three or four minutes [of usable video].”

The reviews are in …

Brandorff’s final step in the production may have been the most important one. She needed favorable reviews from the critics—in this case, the faculty and leadership of the school. And she got them.

Ralph J. Altiere, PhD“We are very pleased by the positive response of the faculty to the video,” said Ralph J. Altiere, dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Even though this short film is directed toward young adults, it is important that faculty feel that we are representing the field professionally. Our goal, which I believe we achieved, is to showcase the profession in a creative and adventurous manner in order to demonstrate how interesting and rewarding a career in pharmacy can be.”

To Brandorff’s delight, the unconventional student recruitment tape was met with overwhelmingly positive response. “It didn’t undermine the field of pharmacy,” she said. “Instead, it made it approachable and interesting, and it teased the viewer to find out more about the field.”

Manzi was also pleased with the results. “Our concern was that we didn’t want our school to look silly, but I think it turned out great,” she said. “It did what we intended.”

In fact, the production was such a hit that, in true Hollywood style, there are already sequels in the planning stages.

In the theme of “The Pharmacist Hunter,” Brandorff has found a larger marketing message for her school—that studying to be a pharmacist is exciting and leads to interesting, flexible and well-paying jobs. And it all started with one student’s idea.

“Sometimes you have to take risks,” Brandorff said. “We were willing to take risks.”

Published: October 14, 2013

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